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02/12/11 4:32 PM EST

Leyland remembers Tanner as 'special friend'

LAKELAND, Fla. -- When Jim Leyland earned his first Major League managerial opportunity to take over the Pirates a quarter-century ago, one of his most positive supporters was Chuck Tanner, the man Leyland replaced.

When Leyland jumped back into managing with the Tigers five years ago, one of the confidantes he would call after a tough loss was Tanner.

They'll be linked forever in Pittsburgh baseball history, and they were close friends. And when it became clear that Tanner was in his final days, one of his last bits of advice was for Leyland, through his son, Tigers scout Bruce Tanner.

"The funny part about it," Leyland said Saturday, "is he told Bruce, just before he passed away, 'You tell Jim Leyland to get his butt to Spring Training and don't even think about coming up here for the service.' Bruce told me that [Friday]."

Chuck Tanner passed away Friday. On Saturday morning, Leyland took his scheduled flight to Florida for Spring Training. He'll stay here next week while services for Tanner go on. He'll do that for a predecessor who became a close friend.

Tanner managed the Pirates to their last World Series title in 1979, part of his illustrious nine-year tenure in Pittsburgh. When it came to an end following the 1985 season, the Pirates took a chance on Leyland, then a third-base coach with the White Sox.

When they did, one person Leyland heard from was Tanner.

"He was a special friend," he said. "He gave me so much encouragement when I took that Pirate job. I knew him when I coached for the White Sox. When I took that job, he couldn't have been nicer. He couldn't have tried to help me more than he did. I'll miss him a lot. He was just a great guy."

Nobody has come as close as Leyland to bringing the Pirates back to the World Series since, having led Pittsburgh to three straight division titles in the early 1990s. His '92 squad remains the last Bucs team to finish with a winning record.

A decade later, when Leyland stepped back from managing, he returned to Pittsburgh, where his family had built a home. He took a scouting job with the Cardinals and became a fixture at PNC Park.

"When I was out of managing, I was scouting for the Cardinals, and Chuck was scouting," Leyland said. "And we sat together every night in Pittsburgh and watched every game. And we talked every night. We became best friends."

They told each other they were the only two scouts on pitch counts, Leyland joked. When the pitch counts got high, they got out and went home. They'd seen enough of the Pirates' bullpen that they didn't need to watch the end.

Their friendship lasted long after Leyland returned to the managerial ranks in Detroit.

"If we had a tough loss once in a while, I'd call Chuck the next day," Leyland said. "And everybody talked about Chuck being so positive, and I was telling them [Friday] night, by the time I got off the phone, I thought we won the freaking game. But I realized when I read the paper that we didn't.

"But that's how he was. He made guys think that they were better than they were. That's how he was. I mean, I'd never seen him down in the dumps. If the Pirates lost seven or eight in a row, he said, 'That's OK, they're getting ready to get hot.'"

Leyland was far from the only manager to receive that kind of pep talk from Tanner. Tigers hitting coach Lloyd McClendon, who managed in Pittsburgh from 2001-05, recalled Saturday some of the positive remarks he received from Tanner over the years. Some of them were simply positive. Others were funny takes on a tough situation.

"Chuck and I were very close," McClendon said Saturday morning. "It was tough. He was a tremendously positive influence on my career. Always upbeat, always a firm handshake and a smile when you saw him. He will be missed."

Leyland saw him one final time a couple weeks ago. His spirits were still high, even if his body was weak.

"When I first met him, I said nobody can be this optimistic, but he was," Leyland said. "That's just what he believed. I'm really going to miss him. He was a very close friend."

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.